Subject: Re: Marine life

Greg Early (
Thu, 22 Oct 1998 17:01:00 -0400

At 02:13 PM 10/20/98 PDT, you wrote:
>Hi.  My name is Jewelyn.  I'm a student at Deer Creek middle school in 
>Littleton, Colorado.  I would like to know what the smartest marine 
>mammal is and how they found out they were smart.  My teacher reffered 
>me to the whalenet site and when I saw your address, I wrote.  We have 
>this as an assignment so write back ASAP please.  
> . . .a wannabe marine biologist,
>	Jewelyn Wellborn 
>Get Your Private, Free Email at


Glad to help a wannabe marine biologist (name the first critter you
discover after me O.K.?).  Smart is a tough thing to measure.  It is hard
enough to figure out how smart people are, let alone animals.  Then when
you try to compare (are dolphins as smart as people?) it just gets worse.
What this means I guess, is that we do not know which marine mammal is the
smartest for sure.  However, there are some ways we can make some fairly
educated guesses.  From brain anatomy it looks like baleen whales are not
smartest of the bunch.  Their brain is less well developed in the areas
where people and animals do their higher thinking (basically where we think
the "smarts" are).  So cross them off the list.  From anatomy again it
looks like the pinnipeds (the seals and sea lions) have brains that are
about like other carnivores (dog or cat perhaps).  Now, I think my dog is
pretty smart so that is not too bad.  Most of the toothed whales, however
have brains that look (anatomy) that they are even better developed in the
"higher thinking" areas.  The other things we can look at to figure out how
smart they are is how do they live, and how do we think they use their
brain.  We know many dolphin species have complex social groups and complex
social behavior.  They also can communicate (at least with each other).
While both of these are considered characteristics of "smart" animals, you
still have the problem of how smart.  Because bottlenosed dolphins have
been in zoos and aquariums and research areas more than any other dolphin,
we know more about how they behave, and communicate.  Most of what we know
about how smart cetaceans are comes from this kind of research.  So you
might say that they are the smartest, because they are the ones we know the

good luck with the marine biology and see you in the water sometime,


Greg Early
Edgerton Research Laboratory				
New England Aquarium
Central Wharf
Boston, Mass 02110
617-973-5246 (phone)
617-723-6207 (FAX)